We all get worn out sometimes, and after a busy day or week (or month!) there are occasions when I’m just. too. tired. to cook.
Whether your fatigue comes from parenting, pregnancy, or a busy work or school schedule, we all need some quick meals in our repertoire that don’t take much effort to get on the table.
Ideally, these quick and easy meals are also healthy and nourishing. Resorting to frozen pizza or TV dinners is not the answer if healthy is your goal.
What do you do when the fatigue hits and you’re just too tired to cook?
Really, the answer to that question is all about being prepared – I know I’m going to be tired, so I should be prepared for it ahead of time – even if you don’t have much time or energy to prepare, arming yourself with some tips and tricks and planning ahead a bit will give you a better chance of getting something healthy on the table in time for dinner.
Preparing for Baby’s Arrival With Quick & Easy Dinners
This post is definitely specific to being prepared for those of you who’s fatigue or lack of time comes from being pregnant or having a newborn, but I’m sure everyone could benefit from having a casserole in the freezer for those days when you just can’t muster up enough energy to do even a lick of work in the kitchen, or for when your toddler has had you busy all day and you realize too late that it’s dinner time already.
Your freezer is your friend. And your friends? Even better than your freezer.
I’m been blessed with an amazing group of mommy friends, some from my mothers’ Bible study, some are the moms I know because our kids are the same age, and thanks to them we had meals 3 days a week for two months after Leah was born. Awesome.
The community here at KS got together to create The Busy Mom’s Guide to Getting Real Food on the Dinner Table. This is a different kind of help than the friends who can stock your freezer for you, but there are some gems of advice in there that will help make a healthy dinner happen.
When you want to eat real food, it’s a little trickier to accept meals from friends who might not share the same food philosophies as you.
When I was pregnant with John, I struggled with figuring out how to be polite about our real food lifestyle. I had a feeling people would be intimidated bringing me food, and I felt badly about that. I know we had a lot of pasta and white flour dishes brought to us after Leah was born (delicious, but hubs gained some weight and triglycerides because of it). It’s tricky to ask people to cook differently when they’re doing you a favor, you know?
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If you have a formal food sensitivity or allergy in the family, that might actually make things easier, because then you could say, “we have to eat this way, and here’s how you can do it,” rather than, “would you please only send healthy foods according to my new nutritional philosophy?”
How to approach what types of food you ask for might be something you’ll need to figure out how to handle for your own family and food preferences. For now, I think that stockpiling foods you know you want to have on hand when baby is born it a good place to start.
5 Foods To Have On Hand for After Baby is Born
There are two goals here: (1) food I can prepare before baby is born that will wait in the freezer for after baby comes, and (2) food I can prepare while baby is napping that can be eaten without any preparation when baby is screaming.
Anything you can make double and freeze during the months leading up to baby’s arrival. Some options from the archives:
- Shepherd’s Pie
- Honey Dijon Chicken Casserole, Potato Beef Bake, & Easy Chicken & Biscuits Casserole recipes are all here
- Black Bean Burgers
- Sausage Zucchini Bake
- Pepper Steak (you can freeze cooked rice in single serving portions, too)
Thaw some frozen chicken stock, slice a few carrots and celery, toss in a bag of frozen, shredded chicken (from making the stock), and, perhaps with rice that you mustered up the energy to soak the night before with this method, you’ve made homemade soup. Done. Ship it.
I also feel like this Tuscan Bean Soup with bagged organic spinach is a quick and easy option, since you’ll only have to cut up one onion and a couple cloves of garlic.
I usually freeze a jar or two of soup at the end of the meal, too, making another easy dinner later. I probably have five different soups in my freezer right now, frozen in glass jars. I’m so thankful they’re there when I have a crazy day and just don’t feel like cooking. Soup and salad is a mainstay around here.
My tip? Make huge batches of soup and always freeze a meal-sized portion from the leftovers. You can browse my many soup recipes here; I make soup at least once a week, so there are a lot of them!
3. Potato Salad
I just love potato salad, so this might be a very personal answer. Although it takes a long time to cut up all the parts, the initial steps are in short bursts that can be done during nap time or anytime you have a few moments to spare:
- bake potatoes
- hard-boil eggs
- peel eggs
Then there’s all that cutting. I’m hoping my kids remain in an “I like to help in the kitchen” mood, because cutting the eggs and cooked potatoes up is a great task with which to involve the kids, and then I can spend some QT with them while new baby is sleeping or in a sling.
Once potato salad is made (and I always make a humongous bowl of it, in case you didn’t guess), I love the ease of it.
That’s the kind of food I need when baby gives me about a two-second notice before it’s time to “NURSE. NOW.” It’s got a few food groups in there, has the eggs to be super nourishing, and I love it.
4. Power Bars, Granola Bars, & Nuts
For the one-second head start times…I’ll want some shelf stable food sitting in the “nursing nest.” Make a batch of granola bars and freeze them a month or so before baby comes, and the power bars (pictured above from Healthy Snacks to Go) last a few weeks as well, so you can plan ahead for when you’ll need them.
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Join thousands of other happy owners of Healthy Snacks to Go, an eBook that is helping real foodies everywhere keep their families nourished (and kids happy) even when they need to pack a snack — without resorting to processed junk food or expensive health food store treats.
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5. Foods Husbands Can Make
Spousal support is such an essential part of having a baby, at least in my household. I have a feeling my husband will be doing a lot of grilling, and he can make several recipes in our Instant Pot. I bet baked potatoes will be a big feature in the rotation, as my chef’s knife intimidates him and his left-handed poor cutting skills.
If you have an Instant Pot, or are thinking about getting one, check out my list of Instant Pot meals even my husband can make.
To plan ahead for this awesome and important assistance, I need to make sure I have plenty of ground beef and chicken breasts on hand. Stocking up will be well worth it!
Be Creative with Your Meal Prep Times
These little tricks can be revelational in a season of life with a brand new baby, especially if you have older children in the mix as well.
When you have young children, you can’t count on the “power hour” starting after 4:00 to do all the dinner prep. There was a stage in our family where at 4:00 every day I had a 6-year-old who needed some attention, a 3-year-old who might be crabby if she didn’t nap, and a newborn who didn’t even know what “schedule” meant. Heck, he didn’t know what “night” and “day” meant yet.
I had to make dinner (and all the other make-from-scratch foods we eat) when I had two hands. For me, this meant I might do some prep in the morning when the baby was napping. I would often have a cooking goal that the preschooler and I could work on together, and I knew we’d get to it sometime during one morning or the next. We’d make things like:
- homemade salad dressings
- homemade crackers
- mayonnaise, which later goes into homemade ranch dressing
- granola bars
- power bars from Healthy Snacks to Go (like Larabars)
- cutting veggies for a crudite platter for dinner
The trick was to make sure it was something that wouldn’t stress me out to make slowly, with a child helper, AND to be flexible enough that if it didn’t get done, dinner didn’t self-destruct.
I could get a bit more done, sometimes, when my little helper was in rest-time or nap-time, depending on her mood. I usually liked to have a “kid-less” goal here:
- recipes that are trickier and I didn’t want help
- things at the stove like my recipe for homemade yogurt or homemade cream of chicken soup
- chopping vegetables or even browning meat for dinner
Here’s the interesting part – I had to figure out what could be stopped and started at random in case of “baby wake up” syndrome.
You know, when baby wakes up and needs to nurse NOW.
Sometimes you can wear the baby in a Moby Wrap or sling, but if they’ve just awakened…you know what they want!
I would often leave vegetables half-chopped on the cutting board, meat browned in the pot and waiting half an hour for the rest, and even soups half made on the stove. They survived. Most things can be turned off even when you have to run to pick up a school-aged child from school, then resumed when you get back.
In a weird stage of life when you need some alternative cooking strategies, think your recipe through and make sure it doesn’t have any parts that need to happen “right now” and can’t be put on pause. It’s “DVR cooking” where you can pause real life!
For those who aren’t glued to their rocking chair with a little nursling from 8 p.m. to midnight every evening, you might be able to rely on the wondrous time after the children go to bed. You’ll want to think about meals that have prep to do 24 hours in advance, or even early in the morning.
Think: When do I have a minute to help dinner happen?
You don’t have to make dinner right before dinnertime.
You just have to plan it in.
There are more quick meal ideas in this post: What To Eat When You’re Too Busy To Think